My Name is Wesley and I’m Unsinkable

It all started when I was 6. Actually though, all 12 years of school I was bullied, and my 1st grade teacher’s advice to ignore it or suck it up was not the greatest. Life included getting punched in the face, being verbally abused, and being given bleach tablets under the pretence of them being candy. Skip ahead to Grade 7 and I had a stranger pull up beside me in a car and point a gun in my face. He yelled that he was going to shoot me and that I was going to die, and all I got out of that encounter was that I should be ashamed of myself because the first of my last thoughts was of my dog and not a family member. We moved around a lot because my dad was in the army, so while I had lots of friends, I had not one person to talk to and was alone in all of the ways it counted. By junior high, I’d started contemplating suicide, but I wanted to wait until high school ended to prove I was better than the people around me. I lived in an emotionally and verbally abusive environment at home, but I was the perfect little kid on the surface for the most part. Being perfect on paper was all that mattered and I did my best to ignore what was going inside.

High school ended and I survived. I went to university for a psychology degree. I thought maybe I could figure out why I had such a hard time being alive. Skip ahead to the end of the degree, and again I did pretty well on paper. In August of 2016, ‘paper me’ met ‘real me’. I had a car that I thought was going to blow up and bankrupt me, I did not feel loved at home, I felt isolated from my friends, I was stressed out over my courses, and I felt like I was going to end up as a worthless nothing when school ended. I’d decided I’d wanted to love myself before I asked anybody else to, so I’d never had an intimate relationship with a girl. I had a girl take advantage of me my first time in a bar when I was stupid drunk, and any time I thought about being intimate I felt hot, gross, and dirty. Basically, it was Life – 100, Wesley – 0.

The big moment came when I passed a guy I knew from high school on my way to pick up takeout for my mom and me. He drove by with his wife in a nice car that he earned at a good job and I was me. I texted a friend and told them I was going to kill myself if I was alone and that I needed saving. My plan was to get my car up to top speed and either flip it on the highway or crash into a concrete wall. I drove around texting them for several hours until I decided I truly wanted to die. The police had been notified and ended up pulling me over minutes before I died and arrested me under Form 10 of the Mental Health Act. Suicide was one thing, but I didn’t want my family to think that I’d died fleeing from the police.

While the help I received after trying to end my life could be described in a number of ways, ‘helpful’ was not one of them.

The officer who drove me to the hospital told me that I was selfish and should have thought about the people who cared about me. I had thought about them, every minute of every day for years, and I always put them first. If the day I try to end my own existence is not the day that I can think about just me, then I’m obviously not good enough to ever get the attention I need. I was certified and plunked into a bed in a ward too intense for me but it was the only bed available. In my two week long hospitalization, I had people threaten to slit my throat, knock me out, and baptize me in the shower. I was put on a massive dose of medication that made me feel like my brain was melting whenever I fell asleep, and all I heard for days was screaming and alarms going off. People tried to kill themselves in the ward, punched themselves in the face, and smashed their heads into the wall. I developed PTSD from the “care” I received, and it took me the better part of a year in therapy to overcome my hospital experience. I was dumped out of the hospital with a 3-month wait for therapy and prescriptions for 180 sleeping pills and 180 pills for anxiety, these after meeting my treatment team for the first time at my discharge meeting. I felt like I’d been encouraged to finish the job. Here’s a little more trauma and some extra means to do it.

What did help me were my friends. I had just under a dozen friends visit me during my stay. They brought me pizza, cereal, board game opponents, hugs, and safety from the rest of what was going on in the hospital. My friends treated me the way they’d always treated me, and I really saw for the first time that they cared about me. I really struggled with being around them after the hospital because I felt like I was always hearing screaming, and when I was repeatedly asked if I regretted attempting suicide I couldn’t give them the answer they wanted. I reached out to the Edmonton Mental Health Association and asked if they had some sort of therapy group for people like me. They responded that they could not find anything of the sort in the area, but said if I was up for it I could try and start one. After a year of talking to every therapist I could get my hands on, I found an organization willing to start one. At this point I had recovered somewhat through individual therapy, and felt that it was a conflict of interest to participate in my own group. I never got the group that I wanted, but I was able to offer the help to others.

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While staff turnover eventually ended the group, River’s Edge Counselling in St. Albert, Alberta took it upon themselves to help make my dreams come true in a way I’d never thought possible, and launched the first support group specifically for suicide attempt survivors in Western Canada. At the time it was the only one we knew of. Several people completed the group and reported it as life changing, which was life changing for me. I felt like I’d made my attempt have a purpose, and that the struggles I’d been through were a source of inspiration for others to keep going. All I had to do was talk about it, and people responded like they’d been holding their breath for years. There were some moments where my open discussions were not necessarily my choice, like when someone tagged me in a news article and my entire Facebook friends list found out I attempted suicide all at once. They were all very understanding. Again, my friends had my back. I sorted out my issues with my family, and now have close, healthy relationships with all of them that are quite important to me. I was getting better in therapy and was ready to start moving on from my attempt, to not have that define me anymore.

In 2018, I decided I wanted to help people more often than just through my personal time, so I picked up a job working in high risk group homes. The support group was running with minimal input from me, and I’d gotten to speak about my experiences a couple of times, but I wanted to do more. I used my lived experience to inspire change in kids, and I bonded with the kids other staff struggled to connect with. I knew what I had needed when I was hurting, and I gave it to them as best I knew how. However, trauma comes at a cost to all those involved, and I was the victim of several traumatic experiences. I had my first 911 call when a youth hit me across the face with a book and threatened my wellbeing in a way that shook me to the core. In December of 2018, I was again chopped out at the knees. On my first day back from a mental wellness break, I had my new glasses ripped off my face and bent, was stabbed in the ribs with a paintbrush repeatedly, and was sexually assaulted during my shift. I left my shift and screamed in my car the entire way home. I called my therapist, and I pulled out every coping mechanism I had ever heard of, both positive and negative. I drank a little bit, I practiced breathing, I use anti-anxiety meds, I exercised, I smelled candles, I took hot showers, I reached out to friends, and I cried. None of it felt like enough. The screaming in my head from the hospital came back, and I could not sleep without having horrible nightmares. Either everyone in the dream was screaming until I screamed, everybody I knew was trying to kill me, or I was being grabbed by monsters I couldn’t get away from. My world was fuzzy and dissociated; I became uncomfortable being in crowds where people could be behind me. I struggled with anger. I was constantly afraid to the point where I was pulling muscles from being so tense, and all of the jokes my friends had made about my crazy group care stories made me want to die all over again. I could only sleep during the day because the dark was scary and the sun was safe. Even my progress in therapy was slowed to a halt because I couldn’t bring up anything without becoming immediately overwhelmed. Thankfully though, I have what I would vouch for as one of the world’s greatest therapists.

My therapist has been saving my life on a biweekly basis for a couple of years now. She was there for me when I was re-hospitalized overnight in 2017 after becoming suicidal again, and she was there when group care took the life I had been rebuilding and shattered it. My therapist has empathized with all of my issues from day one and has always made me want to be better. I am here today because of my therapist. Our stories are supposed to showcase strength and resiliency, but to say I provided all of the strength and all of the resiliency in my story would be blindingly inaccurate.

For most of the darkest moments of my life, they were followed up with a powerful human being standing at my side.

My family, who visited me in the hospital, also made extraordinary efforts to be better. My family who loves me unconditionally and supports me every way they know how. My friend Sarah, who held me when I cried and said that I didn’t want to be like this anymore. Who texted me relentlessly for probably close to a year after my attempt, constantly asking how I was doing and praising me for the little successes I was achieving in recovery. My friend Siria, who visited me multiple times during my hospital stay, made me a get well card full of her little brother’s doodles and brought me cereal to make sure I could eat when I wanted to. My friend Cole, who asked to visit me in the hospital and tried to convince me to leave with him when he saw what the living conditions were like. Cole worked with me for several months after my release, and he was never anything other than patient and respectful of me being the mess I was.

My friend Max, who has been there for me since day 1 and never hesitates to call me. My friend Brennan, who has been dear to my heart for over a decade now and continues to support me endlessly from other parts of the country. My friend Tyson, who never ceases to make me laugh when I am feeling beat down. My friend Kyle, who never made a big deal about me being a disaster and who will drop anything to go for a beer and talk. My young adults support group, which has seen me experience flashbacks, sob like a child, and has otherwise allowed me to get out what eats me inside in a safe environment. The list goes on.

I have healed because people have put time and effort into healing me, and I am eternally grateful for it. Now I do my best to return the favour. I am not entirely ‘better’; I still struggle with PTSD and sometimes the past becomes the present again when I least want it to. What I have learned over the last couple of years is that you do not have to be perfectly 100% in order to make a difference in the lives of others. I speak out about my experience as much as I can because if I can save even one person from feeling the way I have, then the whole thing was worth it.

Be kind to others and learn to be kind to yourself. Distress tolerance, emotional regulation: we learn these things from others, and you can teach all of the most important life lessons through being a role model. Having struggled in the same way as another gives you the ability to connect in a special way, and connection is really all this life is about. To have two human beings see each other as they are, with all of their pain and joy, and to bond. To look at someone and feel in your core that you are in this together. That is what keeps me here.